Thursday, 31 October 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.20 – 'The Yoko Factor' & ANGEL, 1.20 – 'War Zone'

Thursday, 31 October 2013
Adam (to Spike): You feel smothered. Trapped like an animal. Pure in its ferocity, unable to actualise the urges within. Clinging to one truth. Like a flame struggling to burn within an enclosed glass. That a beast this powerful cannot be contained. Inevitably it will break free and savage the land again. I will make you whole again. Make you savage.

There were things I loved about "THE YOKO FACTOR" and things I found fun but awkwardly inserted. It felt like a patchwork episode of ideas. I liked the core one of Spike (James Marsters) manipulating the gang to benefit his new master, Adam (George Hertzberg), by fanning an ember of discontent and sitting back to watch the Scoobies' group dynamic erupt into flames. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) may be the superhuman Slayer, but she's always derived her true strength from her friends, their camaraderie, and simple teamwork. It was fitting that Spike, unable to directly attack anyone because of the chip implanted in his brain by The Initiative, should be the one to surreptitiously tip the odds of winning in Adam's favour. While I've enjoyed the comedy antics of Spike adapting to a civilised human existence as Xander's (Nicholas Brendon) room-mate, de-fanged and derided by the gang he once hunted, it's about time he got back to being the bad guy.

There were also some great scenes when Angel (David Boreanaz) suddenly turned up in Sunnydale to offer Buffy an apology after they parted company on bad terms in "Sanctuary". Both shows have really overdone the crossovers this season, because that whole thing doesn't feel very special in the slightest now, but I'll admit it was great fun to finally see Buffy's lovers eye-to-eye. It's very immature of Angel to perceive Riley as some to hate, and for Riley to only see Angel as a threat from his girlfriend's past, but it did lead to an exciting fight in an alleyway—and one where the unfairness of pitting a human against a vampire was handled well, with Riley using technique and a Taser gun against a physically superior love rival.

As fun as seeing Buffy deal with the quarrelling Angel and Riley was, it did seem to come out of nowhere and slightly unbalanced the episode. Until that point the focus was on Spike's plan to assist Adam, and even involved the unexpected death of Riley's friend Forrest (Leonard Roberts) while grudgingly assisting Buffy in a cave fight with Adam. It just felt a little strange that the episode suddenly did a 180 to deal with Buffy's love life, which felt like it perhaps could have been dealt with another time.

Overall, there was a lot to enjoy about "The Yoka Factor" and the episode contained some excellent moments when the characters were just talking to each other (like Buffy's final squabble with Willow and Xander, with a drunken Giles chipping in occasionally). Plus the Riley and Angel face-off we've been waiting for all season didn't disappoint, and the twist-ending with Riley entering Adam's lair and apparently revealing they're in cahoots was very unexpected. Although I have my suspicions things aren't exactly as they seem. It would certainly be a brave move if I'm wrong and Buffy's choice in men has again proven to be unfortunate. Oh, and Miss Kitty Fantastico is a horrendous name for a cat. Let's hope Willow and Tara (Amber Benson) never have to name child.

written by Doug Petrie | directed by David Grossman | 9 May 2000

David Nabbit: Are you familiar with Dungeons & Dragons?
Angel: Yeah, I've seen a few.
Wesley: You mean the, uh, role-playing game.

The Initiative has worked well for Buffy the Vampire Slayer this season, so Angel gets its own version with an amateur vampire-killing squad led by Charles Gunn (J August Richards). Gunn's gang roam the night in a truck adorned with wooden stakes, staking any vamps they find in the South-Central area, and in "WAR ZONE" Angel came into contact with them for the first time—while investigating a man called Lenny Edwards (Joe Basile) who's blackmailing rich nerd David Nabbit (David Herman) over his visit to a brothel.

It's late in the season, but in some ways "War Zone" felt like an attempt to refuel Angel and perhaps keep an indifferent audience hooked beyond the fact it's associated with BtVS (something that feels less special by the week). It kind of worked because the character of Charles Gunn feels like a more authentic part of L.A, so he's a fun introduction and I'm aware he becomes a bigger player. Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) and Wesley (Alexis Denisof) aren't from the big city, so it's actually a great idea to involve someone who is—and doesn't feel like comic relief. Cordelia knows Angel, Wesley knows the supernatural, but Gunn knows the streets.

"War Zone" had something to say about the class divide, but only really that one exists and a sub-class of people living in LA are outcasts. Hold the front page. It was more about vigilantism and Angel meeting a character who could become a far more valuable colleague than dozy Detective Lockley. I also enjoyed how Gunn's gang had a ragtag Lost Boys feel and yet they're the humans, and Michele Kelly had great chemistry with J. August Richards (as real life friends). The scene where Gunn was reacquainted with his sister, who has become a vampire and taunts him about it, pushing him to eventually stake her, was a real highlight.

And yet, "War Zone" is probably an episode I'll look back on and appreciate more, because it clearly introduced a big new character. If I come to really love Gunn, I will most likely recall this episode with greater affection, but as it stands it was a decent episode based around a fun concept.

written by Gary Campbell | directed by David Straiton | 9 May 2000